England’s Anthony Yarde (18-1, 17 KOs), 28, had never faced a serious opponent in his four-year pro career, which followed a very brief 12-fight amateur stint, but he left it all in the ring Saturday in a valiant effort against light heavyweight world titleholder Sergey Kovalev (34-3-1, 29 KOs).
Kovalev’s vast experience and wicked jab got the job done. Although the 36-year-old Kovalev may no longer be the fearsome pound-for-pound destroyer he was in his 2013-2016 heyday, he’s still a formidable foe, especially for somebody as green as Yarde, who showed an admirable fighting spirit. Yarde definitely had his moments, especially in an eighth round so big Kovalev trainer Buddy McGirt threatened to stop the fight if Kovalev kept getting hit so cleanly.
But Kovalev came back strong to pummel Yarde, ultimately knocking him out with a thudding left jab to the chin at 2 minutes, 4 seconds of the 11th round.
Not only had Kovalev kept his title and not suffered the embarrassment of losing in his hometown of Chelyabinsk, Russia, he preserved a massive fight ticketed for Nov. 2 against middleweight champion and human lottery ticket Canelo Alvarez.
No deal is done, but since there won’t be a third Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin fight this fall, Kovalev is No. 1 on the wish list of Alvarez and DAZN, his broadcast partner. Unless something goes drastically wrong, or one side is lying about wanting to make the fight, it figures to get done.
When the camps tried to make the fight for September, they ran out of time, as Kovalev’s mandatory against Yarde was going to be too tough to get out of. Alvarez then looked at a possible fight with his own mandatory challenger, Sergiy Derevyanchenko. But once that deal cratered and Alvarez (52-1-2, 35 KOs), 28, was stripped of a belt, Kovalev was once again the target.
There’s a reason there has been very little news about Alvarez fight negotiations since — he and Golden Boy decided to wait to see what happened with Kovalev-Yarde. What they got was an excellent fight, a one-punch knockout win for “Krusher” and a healthy fighter ready to go in November. This deal shouldn’t be complicated unless one side is overcome by naked greed.
Kovalev brings much to the table: a big name, a glossy resume and a title Canelo covets so he can become a rare Mexican four-division titleholder. Kovalev, manager Egis Klimas and Main Events promoter Kathy Duva know they’re worth a lot in this fight. Alvarez, Golden Boy and DAZN, which has $365 million tied up in Alvarez, know it too and are going to realize they need to make a fair deal.
Duva was ecstatic after Kovalev’s victory and said she looks forward to getting back to making the fight.
“Please tell Canelo that Sergey is coming back to the U.S. with the belt,” Duva told ESPN after Saturday’s fight. “After Yarde came on with a spectacular eighth round, Sergey dug deep and dominated every second of the fight from the ninth round on. That’s what champions do.”
In the initial discussions for the fight in September, Golden Boy president Eric Gomez told ESPN that Canelo wouldn’t seek a catch weight to try to drain Kovalev below the 175-pound division limit.
Alvarez would be moving up two weight classes to face a still-formidable puncher with massive experience. So while there has been commentary on social media bashing the fight and saying Alvarez was cherry picking an older opponent no longer at his best and dodging other foes, I say nonsense.
Perhaps there are other opponents who might be as tough or tougher for Canelo than Kovalev — some cited super middleweight titlist Callum Smith and middleweight titlist Demetrius Andrade — none of them come with the name, the resume, the size or the power of Kovalev.
As long as there’s no Canelo-GGG III this fall, Canelo-Kovalev is BY FAR the biggest and best fight Canelo could make. I strongly believe Kovalev would present him with a serious fight. Let’s hope they get it done.
Figueroa has bright future
Interim junior featherweight titlist Brandon Figueroa’s first defense, a homecoming fight Saturday night in the Premier Boxing Champions headliner in Edinburg, Texas, just outside Figueroa’s hometown of Weslaco, Texas, could not have gone any better for the 22-year-old.
Figueroa (20-0, 15 KOs) dominated Argentina’s Javier Nicolas Chacon (29-5-1, 9 KOs), 38, the younger brother of former featherweight titlist Julio Pablo Chacon, before landing a series of clean right hands in the fourth round that dropped Chacon. He tried to get up but fell on his face and was counted out by referee Rafael Ramos at 2 minutes.
“It was one of the best moments of my life fighting in front of my family and supporters who have been with me since I was 7 years old,” Figueroa said. “I want to do this again and again, over and over.”
In the co-feature, Philadelphia junior featherweight Stephen Fulton (17-0, 8 KOs), 25, opened a cut over the right eye of Mexico’s Isaac Avelar (16-1, 10 KOs), 21, in the third round before knocking him out with a left hook to the body at 1 minute, 26 seconds of the sixth round.
After the main event, Figueroa and Fulton, who were on the card together to build up a fight between them, were in the ring talking up a potential fight.
“I’m more than happy to do it. I can switch up my game and do everything at any time. I don’t think he’s seen a hard-hitter like me,” Figueroa said.
Fulton said he also was game.
“We’ve been ready, we’re always ready and we will be ready for anybody,” Fulton said. “I want all of the titleholders. If I have to go through Brandon Figueroa to do that, I’ll be ready. He hasn’t fought anybody like me. I think this would be easy for me.”
The next step: Figueroa versus Fulton. Bring it on. That’s an excellent fight between up-and-coming 122-pounders.
Prospect watch: Trio shines
Three prospects promoted or co-promoted by Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn — heavyweight Filip Hrgovic (9-0, 7 KOs), junior welterweight Shakhram Giyasov (9-0, 7 KOs) and super middleweight Alexis Espino (4-0, 3 KOs) — won by impressive knockouts to continue their rise on the undercard of junior bantamweight world champion Juan Francisco Estrada’s ninth-round knockout of Dewayne Beamon in Hermosillo, Mexico.
Hrgovic, 27, a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist from Croatia, is on the big-time fast track. He landed right hands at will as he blasted out Mario Heredia (16-7-1, 13 KOs), 26, of Mexico, at 43 seconds of the third round. Hrgovic is aggressive, skilled, defensively responsible and has a fan-friendly style. “Step by step I’m climbing to the top,” Hrgovic said. “I was asked what I think about fighting on the [Andy Ruiz Jr.]-Anthony Joshua card in Saudi Arabia [on Dec. 7]. I’m grateful for the opportunities, and I’ll fight anyone. I’m expecting a big name so I can show the world who I am.”
New York-based Giyasov, 26, a 2016 Olympic silver medalist from Uzbekistan, is a serious blue-chipper and looked tremendous destroying ex-lightweight titlist Darleys Perez (34-5-2, 22 KOs), 35, of Colombia, with a single left hook to the chin at 41 seconds of the first round. Perez had never been crushed like that before. “Shakhram has worked very hard over the last few months since his decision over Emanuel Taylor,” trainer Joel Diaz said. “We wanted him to be more relaxed and work more on his technique, and that clearly helped him achieve this knockout. I’m obviously thrilled with his performance.”
The Robert Garcia-trained Espino, 19, of Las Vegas, started slowly but put away Mexico’s Oscar Soto (1-2, 1 KO) with a massive left hook that knocked him out cold at 1 minute, 49 seconds of the third round of a scheduled four-rounder.
Fights you might have missed
Saturday at San Juan, Puerto Rico
Strawweight Wilfredo Mendez (14-1, 5 KOs) W12 Vic Saludar (19-4, 10 KOs), wins a world title, scores: 117-110, 116-111, 115-112.
Mendez, 22, ended the world titlist drought in Puerto Rico by claiming a 105-pound belt in a clear decision over Saludar, 28, of the Philippines. Mendez’s boxing skills served to frustrate the more aggressive Saludar, whose best moment came when he dropped Mendez with a left hook in the fifth round.
Saturday at Manila, Philippines
Bantamweight John Riel Casimero (28-4, 19 KOs) KO10 Cesar Ramirez (18-4, 11 KOs), retains an interim world title.
Casimero, 30, of the Philippines, retained his interim belt for the first time as he easily disposed of Ramirez, 31, of Mexico, under the watchful eye of promoter Manny Pacquiao. Casimero, who has won full world titles at junior flyweight and flyweight, dropped Ramirez in third, fifth and seventh rounds before flattening him with a right hand in the 10th round that caused referee Ramon Pena to wave off the fight without a count at 2 minutes, 23 seconds. The win sets Casimero up for a mandatory fight with full titlist Zolani Tete when he returns from shoulder injury.
Saturday at Nagoya, Japan
Flyweight Kosei Tanaka (14-0, 8 KOs) TKO7 Jonathan Gonzalez (22-3-1, 13 KOs), retains a world title.
Japan’s Tanaka, 24, who has won world titles in three divisions, defended his flyweight belt for the second time against Puerto Rican southpaw mandatory challenger Gonzalez, 28. Gonzalez dropped Tanaka with a left hand in the fourth round but couldn’t finish him. Tanaka scored a knockdown with a body shot in the third round, then floored him three times in the seventh round before Celestino Ruiz waved it at 2 minutes, 49 seconds. At the time of the stoppage, Gonzalez led on two scorecards 58-54 and 57-55, while the third judge had it 56-56.
Saturday at Austin, Texas
Middleweight James Kirkland (32-2, 28 KOs) KO1 Colby Courter (13-15, 10 KOs).
Kirkland, 35, of Austin, Texas, once one of boxing’s most explosive and exciting fighters, ended a more than four-year layoff since Canelo Alvarez brutally knocked him out cold in the third round of a junior middleweight bout in May 2015. Kirkland faced soft-touch opponent Courter, 33, of Saint Joseph, Missouri, in a scheduled six-round bout and took him out with three knockdowns in the opening round.
Friday at Broken Arrow, Okla.
Super middleweight Vladimir Shishkin (9-0, 6 KOs) TKO8 DeAndre Ware (13-2-2, 8 KOs).
In the “ShoBox” main event, Shishkin, 28, of Russia dominated Ware, 31, of Toledo, Ohio, a fireman by trade and a familiar face to “ShoBox” viewers. Ware’s trainer, Lamar Wright, threw in the white towel at 2 minutes, 40 seconds of the eighth round to save him from further punishment.
Junior welterweight Shohjahon Ergashev (17-0, 15 KOs) TKO4 Abdiel Ramirez (24-5-1, 22 KOs).
In the “ShoBox” co-feature, Ergashev, 27, of Uzbekistan, continued to look good as he rises up the rankings. This time he took out Ramirez, 28, of Mexico, in rather easy fashion. He was credited with knocking Ramirez down in the second round, although replays showed it was more of a push than a legitimate knockdown. In the fourth round, he had Ramirez pinned along the ropes, and as he landed a series of power shots, referee Gerald Ritter waved it off at 2 minutes.
Junior featherweight Arnold Khegai (16-0-1, 10 KOs) W8 Vladimir Tikhonov (17-2, 9 KOs), scores: 80-72 (three times).
Khegai, of Ukraine, cruised to a surprisingly easy shutout decision as he kept the pressure on Russian southpaw Vladimir Tikhonov, 29, who dropped to 1-2 in his last three fights.
Friday at Everett, Mass.
Junior lightweight Abraham Nova (16-0, 12 KOs) KO1 Luis Castillo (20-4, 15 KOs).
Nova, 25, of Albany, New York, destroyed Castillo in a UFC Fight Pass headliner. Late in the opening round, Nova forced Castillo to the ropes and unleashed a combination that dropped him for the count at 2 minutes, 42 seconds. Promoter Ken Casey said Nova would fight in Belgium in December, then will have a hometown fight in Albany if he can’t secure a shot at a word title.